Apple’s general counsel, Bruce Sewell, releases opening statement to Congress over encryption

As you know, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has obtained a court order demanding that Apple produce a special version of iOS with decreased security to help government spooks brute-force their way into an iPhone 5c which belonged to San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook.

Ahead of that long-winded hearing, though, Sewell has released the opening statement that will be spoken in front of the congressional hearing. Sewell is Apple’s primary witness in its case against the Department of Justice, as well as one of the company’s many Senior Vice Presidents.

Here’s his opening statement in which he challenges the government’s request and argues that the FBI should have no say over the products American companies create.

The statement poses three big questions that have implications for civil liberties:
  • “Do we want to put a limit on the technology that protects our data, and therefore our privacy and our safety, in the face of increasingly sophisticated cyber attacks?”
  • “Should the FBI be allowed to stop Apple, or any company, from offering the
  • American people the safest and most secure product it can make?”
  • “Should the FBI have the right to compel a company to produce a product it doesn’t already make, to the FBI’s exact specifications and for the FBI’s use?”
Sewell carefully outlines that Apple’s products are used by people that trust the company, just by default, with a variety of different important aspects of their lives, from photos to private conversations, and that security is of the utmost importance:
“Hundreds of millions of law-abiding people trust Apple’s products with the most intimate details of their daily lives – photos, private conversations, health data, financial accounts, and information about the user’s location as well as the location of their friends and families. Some of you might have an iPhone in your pocket right now, and if you think about it, there’s probably more information stored on that iPhone than a thief could steal by breaking into your house. The only way we know to protect that data is through strong encryption.”
It’s been suggested that Tim Cook could go to jail over defying the United States government’s court order. In an interview with ABC “World News Tonight” anchor David Muir, Cook said he’d pursue the legal challenge all the way to the Supreme Court.

The request, he said, sets a legal precedent that would offend many Americans and Apple would be “prepared to take this issue all the way.”

According to Stephen Vladeck, an expert on national security law at American University, Apple, the company, not Tim Cook, could face hefty fines for contesting the court order to assist the FBI.

“The issue of whether this matter is regulated by statute is ambiguous, as the DOJ has argued the matter under the All Writs Act, an arcane body of law which broadly allows courts to issue writs, subpoenas and orders,” Cooper Levenson attorney Peter Fu told FastCompany. “Whether the DOJ’s use of the All Writs Act [is upheld] will largely determine whether monetary penalties could be imposed.”

You can read the full letter from here.

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